In the last 10 seasons, Paducah Tilghman football has generated no less than 2,000 team rushing yards nine times, and still eclipsed 1,000 yards as a squad in 2012.
And it's fitting. McRight Field - the Blue Tornado's home turf - is wrapped with an electric blue track painted with the a litany of state championships in track & field. Running is in the team's DNA. It always has been. It always will be. In 2018, behind guys like Makel Askew, Damien Ford and Jayden Freeman, Tilghman generated the most rushing yardage (3,491) for the program in the last decade.
Ford and Freeman are back for their senior seasons, looking to stack yards in big chunks once again. And they have fullbacks in Jarmorie Sabbs and Massac County transfer Jonathan George up front to help plow the way, or perhaps surprise defenses with their own gashing totes.
Like the "Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse," they'll bring their own versions of war, death, famine and conquest to opposing defenses.
Ford is the top returner, after tallying 698 yards rushing and seven scores on 67 rushes in 2018, as well as 39 tackles on defense.
"Whenever they need me to go get yards, I'll go get it," Ford said. "I'm basically the 'whenever-you-need-me' back. Whenever you need something to happen, I can come do it."
Freeman, Tilghman's state-podium track star with a 4.5 40-yard dash, finished second on the team last year with 10 catches and 193 yards with two touchdowns, and added 43 carries, 310 yards and five touchdowns. "I'm the speed guy," Freeman said. "I can get to the perimeter at any time. Any time. Defenses are going to have to get used to it. Punt return, kick return, special teams…I'll be reliable there, too."
There's Sabbs, who added 374 yards, 38 carries and two touchdowns as a sophomore last year - most of it coming breakout-style in a lopsided 51-27 Class 3A, District 1 win at Trigg County (14 carries, 224 yards, two touchdowns). He's looking forward to playing fullback again in head coach Jonathan Smith's pro-style offense.
"It's just smashmouth football," Sabbs said. "We've got to be able to open up the holes for these dudes to get their yards. Do whatever we need to do to help the team win." And then, there's George…who sat last season after two years of football in Metropolis, Illinois. Soft-spoken, but expected to a big, punishing part of this quartet. "Muscle," George said. "Grit. Fourth-and-1. Third-and-5. I'll get all of it." Now, there's no question the Blue Tornado are going to throw the ball more in 2019, and have just the quarterback to do it in a growing and maturing Cam Marshall - who picked up 10 starts in 2018.
But the run is key, and these four guys are going to be the horses for it.
"I'm a firm believer that, to be where we want to be when the games matter the most, we have to be able to run the ball," Smith said. "With that said, I also realize moving into my second year as a head coach that our biggest weakness last year was being able to throw the ball when we wanted to. Not just when everyone in the stands knew we had to because of down/distance.
"We have worked very hard through spring and summer to improve our passing game. This year, we plan to be more of a pro (I/flanker) team than last. Don't get me wrong. When needed, we still plan to line up in the full-house backfield; but, the coaches and I also feel the pro-style offense best fits our personnel."
What's worried Smith more this offseason than anything else, however, has been the concept of developing a kicker. Because since 2011, it's been one of the Butler trio - Miles, Reese, Lance - booting PATs and field goals like Tiddlywinks into a plastic cup.
"I don't think people realize just how much the Butler family has done for this football program," Smith said. "And that's a position that kept me up some nights this summer."
Taking on the task in '19? Sophomore soccer star and McCracken County transfer Shelby Nickal. Yes, she's a girl. And no, it doesn't matter. "She can kick PATs and hit it from 30, 35 yards," Smith said. "And, she's working with Lance (Butler) to get even better."
If there were ever a season Trigg County felt like it had a chance at a district title - and more - it's this season.
Quarterback Cam Jordan has committed to the Naval Academy and is beyond excited to get going in a systematic triple-option at the collegiate level. But before that, he wants to build on the 40-plus touchdowns he's generated on the ground and in the air over the past two seasons.
Defensive back JaQuellus Martin is getting considerable Ohio Valley Conference interest, with his 6-0 gritty frame and relentless man-to-man pressure.
Wide receiver JaKobe Bridges plans on scoring at every level - offense, defense and special teams. Tayshaun Barker is back, after nabbing more than 500 all-purpose yards and six touchdowns for the Wildcats in 2017, then playing for Hopkinsville in 2018.
And 6-4 former Fort Campbell wide receiver Andrew Syester has joined the mix for his senior season, giving Jordan another weapon in the fold.
So the concerns for the Wildcats lie in the defense, where heart won't be a question, but physical size might be.
"If we can keep offenses to where they're off our linebackers, we feel like our linebackers and secondary can make all the plays," noted Trigg County head coach Coby Lewis. "I'm not knocking our D-Line when I say that, but we just don't have the pluggers and great big guys with size and things like that.
"Got a good group down there. We like the guys that we've got down there. It's just that we don't have the size on the defensive line (to scare)."
Trigg County's schedule is also fairly strong in 2019: a visit to 5A Muhlenberg right out of the gate, a stop at 4A Calloway County on Sept. 6, a home matchup against 2A Murray on Sept. 20, at 1A Crittenden County on Oct. 4, then a regular-season finisher with 2A Caldwell County on Nov. 1 at Purdue Field for braggin' rights in the "139 Bowl."
And of course, the much-anticipated matchup with district nemesis Paducah Tilghman on Sept. 27 in Cadiz…a team the Wildcats have never tamed in the history of the program.
"We're 3A, so we're in a spot where, a lot of times, the 1A's and the 2A's don't want to play you," Lewis said. "And then the 5A's and 6A's all want to play you. And our district, up until last year, has been so tough that you're trying to find some games where you have a little bit lesser of an opponent, some solid middle and then a few at the top."
Webster, Union County fill out 3A, District I
In the new realignment plan, the Trojans make the move to Class 3A - taking the place of the Caldwell County Tigers, who dropped to 2A.
Webster hasn't won more than one game since 2016, when they topped Clinton County and Fulton County - but fell to Ballard Memorial, Murray and Mayfield before losing to Owensboro Catholic 70-0 in the first round of the Class 2A playoffs.
The Trojans did put up 187 points last year, and toted one of the best defenders - regardless of class - in linebacker Shawn Guinn, who finished with 103 solo tackles and 144 total tackles on the year.
Quarterback Mason Wilson and two of his top wideouts, Daniel Yates and Ayden Winn, return alongside Guinn, and it could be enough for the Trojans to horse around for more wins.
Meanwhile, Union County returns its quarterback (Solamon Teehan: 1,006 passing yards, 15 TDs) and top running back (Corithian Portee-Seales: 929 rushing yards, five TDs), but does lose a lot of key seniors from the 2018 club, including K Mason Weldon, WR/RB Dealynn Ricketts, WR/LB Lincoln Sisk and OL/DL Jordan Nixon.